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Karl Rahner on
What It Means To Be A Priest Today

Part II


There are people who yearn for the incomprehensibility and eternity of God. To these people the priest says that the most inconceivable optimism which you cannot even comprehend is actually your possibility, yes, even your most holy duty. You can be this because we have experienced the love of God in Jesus Christ.

I do not see why a priest of this vision could not overcome the crisis in today's priesthood. Naturally, all these things have been overshadowed by the triviality and the habitual nature of our life from which the priest also suffers. He is necessarily also the one who must constantly pray: I believe, Father, help my unbelief. He too must accomplish a breakthrough in hope out of the banality of the mundane and into God's eternity. He cannot be a priest and be happy if he is not a spiritual person, if he does not always begin again he need not do more than try. He must be a man of God, a man of experience with the Holy Spirit and a man of eternity. If he is not this, then the priesthood will be a terrible burden for him. But even if he is such a spiritually oriented person, it is also clear that he will experience disappointment in himself and in those to whom he preaches the word of God.

But this burden is not taken from laypeople and from those who think they would be freer and happier if they were to leave the priesthood. Disappointment, death, hardship, and the like are part of human life. It would indeed be sad if a priest were not to experience these as well. However, he should not be quick to blame all the above on the priesthood as such. He should rather ask: where is there one who does not experience disappointments in our times here on earth, ultimately at death?

It seems correct that today's priest no longer has certain functions which earlier made his life a bit easier and cheaper to live. Many of a priest's earlier duties have now disappeared, be it because others have taken them over, or be it because the priest no longer has the time and energy. He should not be disappointed in the priesthood because of this. He should reflect much more upon the real heart of the priesthood. There certainly must be men in our dreadfully banal and brutal society who nurse the fire of praise and love of God and who initiate others in the experience of God's mystery. Each one will be successful in his own way. Of course, a priest's religious potential and dynamic force is going to depend upon his talents and personal history. One should not turn up one's nose or look down upon even the smallest servant in God's kingdom who, true and faithful, proclaims the message of the New Testament through his priestly calling, even if this is done in a common, banal, traditional, and somewhat "burnt-out" manner. Every priest should always say to himself: Within the limits given you by God, you should be truly a prophet, a man of God, one moved by the fire of God. You should love God and your fellow man. You should proclaim the message of Jesus Christ in our time, as Paul said, be it convenient or inconvenient.